Today’s column addresses questions about the ability to take spousal benefits after first receiving retirement benefits, what benefits may be available after a divorce and whether Social Security requires beneficiaries to switch from survivor benefits to their own retirement benefit at 70. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.
See more Ask Larry answers here.
Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.
Can My Wife Get Social Security Spousal Benefits After Taking Retirement Benefits?
Hi Larry, I was born in 1955 and my wife’s birth year is 1960. My Social Security retirement benefit will be $3,095 at FRA and hers will be $905.
I intend to collect my retirement benefit at 70. If my wife, applies for her retirement benefit at her FRA, can she also later apply for spousal benefits when I start collecting my increased retirement benefit when I turn 70?
If so, will her benefits be sum of her initial amount plus half of mine ($3,095). Thanks, Oliver
Hi Oliver, Because she was born after 1/1/1954, when your wife applies for either her own retirement benefits or for spousal benefits, she’ll be deemed to be filing for both benefits.
If you’re already drawing your retirement benefits when she files, what she’ll receive is her own benefit rate plus an excess spousal benefit.
The unreduced excess spousal amount would be calculated by subtracting your wife’s own primary insurance amount (PIA) from 50% of your PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).
If your wife waits until FRA to claim her benefits and if you’re already drawing your benefits at that time, she’ll receive her full PIA plus an excess spousal benefit equal to the difference between her own PIA and 50% of your PIA. Her resulting combined benefit rate would then be equal to a full 50% of your PIA.
However, if your wife files for benefits prior to FRA, her benefit rate will be reduced for age. And that reduction would continue to apply for as long as both of you are living.
You and your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to make sure you’ve fully considered available options to determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry
Is It True That I Could Get Social Security Benefits On My Ex’s Record?
Hi Larry, I have heard someone say this is true that I can get the Social Security benefits on my ex-husband’s record now and even possibly when he would pass.
Would I need to be 65? I am 61 right now and we were married 13 years before getting divorced. I did not ever remarry. Would I get money before his other ex wife too? Thanks, Jen
Hi Jen, Yes, while your ex is living you may be able to qualify for divorced spousal benefits as early as age 62.
You could only be eligible for divorced spousal benefitss if a) your ex is at least 62 or drawing his Social Security benefits, and b) your own primary insurance amount (PIA) is less than 50% of your ex-spouse’s PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).
And it sounds like you would probably meet the requirements for surviving divorced spousal benefits as well.
Your ex’s marital history aside from your marriage wouldn’t matter to your eligibility. Even if your ex has another spouse or ex-spouse(s) who qualifies for benefits, it wouldn’t adversely affect your potential divorced spousal benefits. Best, Larry
Am I Required To File For My Own Benefits At Age 70?
Hi Larry, I have been collecting Social Security widow’s benefits since I turned 66 1/2 based on my late husband’s account. I did not retire until August 2019 from my federal job. I have turned 70 recently.
Am I now required to switch to my own account as I am now 70? There is a substantial difference between what I have been receiving and what I would receive on my own record. Do I have the option of continuing my survivor benefit instead? Thanks, Elizabeth
Hi Elizabeth, I’m sorry for your loss. You are not required to ever apply for your own Social Security retirement benefits, nor would it likely be advantageous for you to do so unless your own benefit rate is higher than your survivor rate.
You’re free to continue drawing just your survivor benefits indefinitely.
Since you mentioned retiring from a federal job, as long as you paid Social Security taxes on all of your earnings, if you receive a federal pension it wouldn’t adversely affect your survivor benefits.
However, if you receive a federal pension based on your earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes, then your Social Security survivor benefits would likely need to be offset by 2/3rds of the amount of your pension due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO).
If you do receive a government pension based on non-Social Security covered earnings, you are required to report that fact to Social Security. Best, Larry